Final post on Cambodia and Vietnam Viking Mekong River cruise and tour…Photos of us and more…Why did we choose this particular cruise?

Camera in my hand while Tom carried our little insulated bag with chilled bottled water as we exited the boat for a tour.

Today is our final post on our recent tour of Cambodia and Vietnam by land and river over a period of 15 days to which we added an extra three days.  Certainly, 18 total days in two countries is hardly enough time to gain the perspective we acquire when spending two to three months living in a country.

The first night aboard the river boat for a lecture by our cruise director Enrico, about the upcoming adventure.

With the number of tours we attended, the three cities in which we stayed; Hanoi, Vietnam, Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we had an opportunity to experience a little understanding of life in these cities and two countries, both in today’s world and in the past.

Why did we choose this particular tour/cruise?  During our past 13 ocean-going cruises we had opportunities to ask other cruisers as to their favorites. 

Visit to Ho Chi Minh Memorial in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Many mentioned this cruise as one of their favorites each offering their personal reasons which may have included; (for older citizens) vets having fought in Vietnam during the war; having lost a friend or loved one during the war; or having diligently followed the news of the war during its progression and later, or simply having an interest in war history.

For Tom, having lost his brother-in-law Ernie (brother of his ex-wife) whom was KIA in Vietnam in 1970, always felt visiting Vietnam was some sort of betrayal. 

Not quite clear (not our photo) at dinner aboard the river boat with some of the many new friends we made on the cruise/’tour.

But, after hearing from many US and Aussie vets we met on past cruises, who expressed that visiting Vietnam was cathartic and ultimately healing, he reconsidered with a little prodding from me.

My reasons were less profound.  One, I wanted to see Tom find peace in the process and two, an immense curiosity after reading and hearing over a period of many years, of how both Cambodia and Vietnam as they’ve recovered from the war and decades of horror and strife, now welcome citizens of the US and others from around the world with open arms.

This day’s ride through Phnom Penh in a rickshaw proved to be very uncomfortable for me and I was thrilled when it was over.  Otherwise, it would have been a fabulous outing in the busy city.

Neither of us were disappointed.  From the moment we landed in Hanoi, Vietnam to the flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to the full day bus ride through the Cambodian countryside and then back to Saigon, each element of our travels left us with a new awareness and knowledge we’d never experienced had we not visited this part of the world.

Tom’s most meaningful experience of the entire period we spent in Cambodia and Vietnam was the visit to the Cu Chi Tunnel which left him reeling over acquiring a better understanding of the perils of war and the challenges of life for the soldiers during these many years.  Please click here for the first of our several links for Tom’s personal experiences in the Cu Chi Tunnel.  Please see our archives for the remaining posts in this series, a few days later.

At the Kampong Cham Temple in Cambodia.

My most powerful experience was the eight hour bus ride (with stops along the way) through Cambodia.  Staring out the window of the bus for hours, taking only a few photos along the way, I sat alone in the two seats toward the back of the bus, while Tom sat alone across the aisle. 

Not a big fan of “selfies” I took this one of us as we began the ride through the old French quarter in Hanoi, riding in what was referred to as an “electric car,” comparable to a six person golf cart.

This quiet time to myself was spent in it’s entirety in imagining life for the people of Cambodia, the Killing Fields, the loss of life of millions, and how since that horrifying period in their history, somehow they’ve managed to rebuilt, to regrow and to heal.  It had a profound effect on me, a memory I’ll always carry with me.

A beautiful young girl and adorable boy at the orphanage in Kampong Cham.

Traveling the world isn’t always about personal gratification and pleasure.  Yes, at times, it is.  But, for us, we try to embrace the significance of the power and meaning for others living in lands foreign to us. 

Its not always about the popular tourist attraction and taking good photos to share.  Its about filling our hearts and minds with humility, awe and wonder of the world around us, its people, their culture and their way of life.

The reflection of Tom’s head in the plastic headliner in a taxi in Hanoi after purchasing his tennis shoes.  Its silly things like this that makes us laugh out loud.

We are eternally grateful for the time we spent in Cambodia and Vietnam and the wonderful people we met along the way; the gracious locals, our never faltering tour directors, Kong and Lee and of course, the many other passengers we met who, like us, had their own special reasons for embarking on this memorable journey.

May your life’s journey bring you joy and purpose.

_______________________________________


Photo from one year ago today, August 3, 2015:

We spotted this kilometer distance meter at a scenic overlook in Port Douglas, Australia which illustrates distances to various cities throughout the world.  For more photos, please click here.

Our first cruise tour in Hanoi…Vietnam Museum of Ethnology…



The bright red colour of this Hoa, or ethnic Chinese wedding dress is intended to bring happiness, good luck and a prosperous future.  The Hoa in Vietnam continue to maintain customs from their provinces of origin, mainly in Southern Chine.  Many Hoa are involved in trade in urban areas, primarily in Ho Chi Minh City where we’ll soon visit.

Both of us were up and getting ready for the day before 6 am determined to keep from having to rush to any of the mornings activities.  First on the agenda was the breakfast buffet in the Vietnamese Spice Restaurant located in the hotel.

It was busy at both tourists venues not only with our groups but many others.

As we were seated we could sense the influx of other cruise passengers when we detected many American accents, something we hadn’t heard in a long time.  On the cruise in April from Sydney to Singapore supposedly there were 17 Americans on board but we never met one.

This wall indicted the 54 separate ethnicities of the people of Vietnam. For more on this, please click here.

In January, on the cruise from Sydney to Auckland there were a reported 200 Americans on board but here again, we only met a few.  On this 56 passenger cruise we expect that  approximately 46 of the passengers are from the US.

A bicycle pulling a variety of style of fishing traps.

Not that the nationality of other cruisers matters to us.  Not after all this time.  But, it is fun to hear the familiar accents from throughout the country and chat with people who may have lived near us and been where we’ve been in the past.

Ceremonial attire.

After a chatty breakfast we all headed to a meeting room for a 30 minute intro to the cruise and its varying nuances, precautions and general instructions.  We’re assigned to Group A which comprises half of the manifest with Kong as our red-shirted tour guide and host. 

Centuries old furnishings and artifacts.

Kong is a highly entertaining and friendly Vietnamese fellow who’s is easy to understand and extremely  well organized.  By 8:45 we were on the Group A red modern and air conditioned bus containing a cooler with chilled water bottles for us at no charge.  It’s been one hot and humid day to say the least!

Vietnamese ritual dolls.

Each of us were given a QuietVox audio headset to use during many aspects of the cruise/tour.  The last time we’d used such a devise was in Versailles in Paris in August, 2014 on a very rainy day.  This is especially helpful for Tom with his difficulty in hearing after all those 42 years on the railroad.

In the countryside, when an elder reaches 60 years of age, a coffin is made for them and kept under the house until they pass away.  Once they’re buried three meals a day is delivered to the burial site to support the deceased in their journey to heaven.  After the three years, a special celebration is held and the soul is released to heaven.

The morning’s plan was to first visit the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and then drive to a well known temple in Hanoi, the Temple of Literature, a popular tourist venue on a list of many interesting and revered temples.

Household decorations.

As much as we’d like to get into the details of Vietnamese history, with each day jammed packed with activities and meals, we won’t have time to elaborate on what we’ve learned.  

Example of a house in the country.

Right now, we have 75 minutes to upload photos, complete this post (during an on-your-own-lunch-break) and upload it until we’re off again for the next three hour tour to the famous “Hanoi Hilton” which we’ll write about in tomorrow’s post. 

More hand crafted decorations. 

We’ll return to the hotel at 5 pm, shower and change for dinner, meet our new friends at 5:30 for one last 50 minute happy hour (they actually aren’t leaving until tomorrow) and then walk the short distance to the Hanoi Opera House where we’ll dine for dinner a prearranged dinner with the two groups at 6:30 pm.

Halloween is observed by some Vietnamese people and thus, this scary mask.

Tomorrow morning, we’re off on another tour and then will board the bus at 12:30 pm for the airport for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia arriving at 5:30 pm.   We’ll check in to the hotel, another Sofitel, and then head to a buffet dinner at 7:00 pm.  Another very busy day!

Weaving of fine cloths.

How am I holding up?  I’ll admit its not as easy as I’d hoped by this date but I’m managing thanks to the expert help of my attentive and thoughtful husband who holds me up, holds my hand and monitors every step I take to ensure my safe stepping over some rough and uneven steps and terrain. 

Women’s garment.

I’m going to do this, that’s all there is to it.  And darn it all, I’ll treasure every moment.  I took almost 100 photos this morning, even after all the rejects I’ve since deleted on the bus on the return drive, I look forward to taking hundreds more.

Artistic wooden renditions.

So bear with us.  We’ll post everyday but the timing may be sketchy at times.  If you check back a few times a day, you’ll see us here with all new photos and updates on the day’s activities.  Tomorrow, we’ll post photos from the Temple of Literature based on todays time constraints.

The grounds are kept meticulously groomed surrounding the museum.

Unfortunately, we have no alternative but to keep most of the photo captions to a minimum since it takes considerable time to look up the information online for each display.  If something catches your eye, please write to us and we’ll get back to you with more information.

There’s symbolism in artistic works.

It’s hard for us to believe we are here and on this amazing journey in a land that holds many sad heart wrenching memories for soldiers and their loved ones not only from the US but several other countries. 

A display of typical family life in centuries past in Vietnam.

We express our love and appreciation to every soldier and their families as we’ll express every word and thought contained herein over these next few weeks with them in our hearts and minds.

________________________________________


Photo from one year ago today, July 9, 2015:

A peacock with another bird we couldn’t identify down the road from our vacation home in trinity Beach, Australia.  For more photos, please click here.

Hanoi keeps on giving…Cruise/tour starts tomorrow…

This photo we took in one of the hotel’s two lobby areas reminded us of another era.  We can easily imagine the ambiance in this historical hotel built in 1901, then called the Hanoi Hotel, now the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel.  Many world renowned celebrities and political figures have stayed in these opulent surroundings.

As it turned out we didn’t have time to work on the Indonesian visa while in Hanoi in preparation for our return visit to Bali on September 1st. We called the embassy and they explained that a two or three day turnaround wasn’t possible due to local holidays.

An indoor boulevard of pricey shops was tempting to peruse.  We thought of the precious little alpaca Mont Blanc when we spotted this store.  Gosh, that seems so long ago.

Instead, we’ll try accomplish it using overnight mail (which actually takes three days each way) from Phuket, Thailand during our six weeks on the island beginning after the cruise ends.

A cellphone display in an expensive shop’s window.  I asked for the price of this particular model to discover its US $18,000, VND $401,427,000.  Guess we don’t need one of these!

We let the Indonesian visa acquisition waft from our minds satisfied that we currently have the required visas for this cruise/tour and the upcoming six weeks in Thailand. 

Antique working phones in a hallway of the hotel.

In the worst case, we’ll do another three day Lovina run between September and October to get the second 30 day visa. Once that’s completed, we won’t need any additional visas until after the US visit ends when we’ll be heading to Costa Rica for a slightly longer than allowable 90 day visa.

Its unlikely we’ll use the hotel’s pool.  Its rained or been cloudy most of each day since our arrival.

Thank goodness I’m feeling much better.  I may not be 100% better although I’m hovering around 75%.  Walking is easier now than a week ago in Singapore. Sitting remains the most difficult especially if the furnishings aren’t conducive to a straight posture. 

At breakfast I had a bowl of pho minus noodles.  It was delicious reminding me of the pho my younger son Greg and I often ordered when we frequently visited a popular Vietnamese restaurant in Minneapolis, Kinhdo.

Last night, our cruise documents were awaiting us in the room after another fabulous fun filled evening with our new friends from the UK/Singapore; Sally, Richard and Isabel. 

The hotel’s bellmen provide the utmost of bell services.

It was another nonstop laugh fest with nothing held back resulting in outrageous story telling.  How refreshing!  Tonight, we’ll all get together for the final time with them heading back to Singapore tomorrow and our cruise essentially beginning tomorrow morning.

Vendors are often on foot battling the outrageous traffic in an attempt to sell their wares.

Tomorrow’s first day schedule is tight with a three hour morning tour beginning after breakfast and the 8 am itinerary meeting here in the hotel.  From there, we’ll board four person vehicles which at this point we aren’t certain if they mean taxis, pedi-cabs or the equivalent of “tuk-tuks” one often finds in Thailand.

With over 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi, many are used for transporting products for resale.

At noon during a two hour break we’ll prepare and upload tomorrow’s post with photos we’ve taken from the morning tour.  After the two hour break we’ll board  a bus for another tour of several important sites in Hanoi, reporting back with photos the following day.


One person pedi-bikes are inexpensive and a popular means of travel.

The busy day will end with dinner in an upscale local restaurant, a five minute walk from the hotel.  With a total of 56 passengers on the cruise’s manifest (which was included in the package) it should be an interesting opportunity to meet and mingle with other passengers. 

These converted motorbikes/trucks are also a common means of transport.

With the usual 2000 to 4000 passengers on a typical cruise, this small group, mostly Americans,  should be interesting. Its been a long time since we’ve interacted with many other Americans, most likely since the wonderful people we met in Kauai, Hawaii.  Then again, we love meeting people from all over the world.

A towering cookie display.

Hopefully, we can keep political/election discussions to a minimum and focus on other topics as well as the historical aspects of the cruise. Over these past years we’ve heard many travelers rave about this cruise being their favorite of many.  We’ll hold off speculating any further for now and report details as they occur.

Tom sitting at the hotel’s shoe shine station.

Tomorrow, as mentioned above, we’ll be back three or four hours later than usual, looking forward to sharing more details of this amazing experience in Vietnam.

Be well and happy!

____________________________________

Photo from one year ago today, July 8, 2015:

This adorable Kookaburra posed for me in the yard while sitting on the fence next to the rain gauge.  These birds are much larger than appearing in this photo.  For more Trinity Beach photos, please click here.


More than we expected of Vietnam, fascination, awe and wonder…It has it all…Where does familiarity fall into the mix?

This, dear readers, so much bespeaks Vietnam in today’s world.

Yesterday afternoon, when we took off on foot from the hotel, we were excited to be walking.  With the cruise officially starting tomorrow, I needed to get out walking to test how I’d do on the many upcoming treks over the next two weeks.

The street are packed with locals, drinking famous Vietnamese coffee, tea while happily commiserating among friends.

Determined to be able to participate fully, we decided to walk until I couldn’t take another step which lasted nearly two hours.  Not only was exercise my mission but capturing as many possible photos to share here was on my mind.

Vendor cooking on the street with the barest of essentials.

It was raining off and on during the entire walk although at no point were we soaked.  There were plenty of overhangs and trees to shelter us during the downpours.  We continued on when each block we explored provided its own unique flavor of Vietnam.

There are over 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi.  Walking across any road is challenging.

The sights, the sounds and the smells of lemongrass wafting through the air created a unique persona unlike any we’ve experience anywhere else in the world. 

Colorful lanterns, balls, balloons and toys line the streets.

As we’ve begun to explore Southeast Asia in our worldwide travels, no doubt these assaults to our senses will become more familiar and less intoxicating.  You know how it is…familiarity…well, in this case it doesn’t “breed contempt” as the saying goes. 

Folding cut paper art.

For us, it instills a familiarity that we incorporate into the vast experiences we glean in this special life we’ve chosen to live.  Now, that I’m  feeling better and hopeful again for the future, I’ve become philosophical in the enormity of it all. 

We stopped in a tiny shop to find grandma aka, Bà nội  (in Vietnames) asleep on the floor.

This morning after breakfast on the elevator back up to our floor, Tom picked a tiny bit of food out of my hair and said, “I can’t take you anywhere!”  In a flash, he added, “But I take you everywhere!”

Vegetable in the basket of a shopper’s bicycle.

We both laughed over his usual instantaneous wit and…the irony of it all.  We ask ourselves, “What are we doing in Vietnam in a five star hotel having the time of our lives…once again?”  We’ll never become too familiar with the excitement and adventure to ever take it for granted.

Eggs tied the a motorbike handle for a hopefully safe trip home.

Last night during happy hour/buffet dinner in the Club Lounge we met a fabulous couple, Sally and Richard and their lovely teenage daughter Isabel, originally from the UK, currently living in Singapore, also with vast world travel experience.  We joined them at their big booth for an outrageously delightful evening.

A Hoan Kiem lake and park across the road.

Within moments of engaging in light conversation, we all clicked and magic happened.  The complimentary cocktails flowed (iced tea for me) along with the laughter and endless animated chatter. 

Ho Chi Minh artistic piece on an office building

It couldn’t have been more fun!  We’re planning to do the same again this evening, if time allows for all of us.  If not, we leave behind one more memorable night in our ever growing repertoire of social interactions we’ll always treasure.

Many large beautiful trees remain in Hanoi.

Add what we’re finding so far during this short period in Hanoi and we’ll leave with a happy heart even before the cruise actually begins.  Tonight at 5 pm, we’ll attend a Viking cruise meeting to get our bearings including a description of the itinerary and activities over the next many days.  With a maximum of only 60 passengers on the entire cruise/tour, it should be enjoyable in many ways.

An old woman selling fruit on the street.

We’ll be back with more photos tomorrow with an update on the timing for future posts based on the upcoming cruise/tour schedule. 

May familiarity enhance your day in many ways.

____________________________________
 

Photo from one year ago today, July 7, 2015:

A year ago today, we posted this photo of Nash’s remaining fuzz  which didn’t deter him from being ready to fledge out to sea.  Only five months old, he’d yet to shed his chick fluff but the dark lined eyes were very grown up.  Our friends in Kauai sent us videos of the  actual which we missed having left before the momentous events.  For more photos and videos, please click here.

Part 1…New destinations and travel arrangement booked!…Exciting planning for the future as we fill in gaps in the itinerary…

Private home overlooking the sea on during the drive on the beach road.

When two people start clicking on their laptops simultaneously to research the same thing, its a sight to see. When we decide to research a location, we do so simultaneously. 

Tom reads every word and review. I breeze through looking for the highlights. Together, its a perfect match. That’s not to say that lively conversation doesn’t ensue. 

Nor does it say that we may totally agree during the process although its never an argument, only a discussion, among two stubborn and headstrong individuals who ultimately adore one another valuing love and harmony above all else.

Somehow along the way, often over a period of hours, as we banter back and forth we finally meet in the middle and coalesce to each others wants and desires. An agreement is born. 

Private pier at Cousteu Resort.

Exhausted from the process, we sit back, high from the experience, gratified with the result, with a smile on our faces that seems to carry us into the night satisfied over a hard and successful day’s work.


When we began this journey after I’d spent 10 months sitting in a comfy chair in Minnesota four years ago, planning for 12 hours a day, while Tom worked the tail end of his 42 year job, we had no delusions that the “work” aspect of planning our travels would be an ongoing process from which we’d never be able to take a total break.

Sure, we’ll have short stretches of time here and there that require little to no bookings, payments for future rentals, flights and cruises. Its during those times, we totally free our minds from the responsibility which oddly, once we start up again, we totally seem to enjoy.

When I owned and ran a business most of my adult life I’d do a budget/business plan for the upcoming year. In anticipation of this time consuming painstaking task, I suffered angst and worry for days, even dreaming about it. Once I began, I kept at it as a fire in my belly took over until completion. I’d actually end up enjoying the process.

A short area of a sandy beach.


Its the same here. Although Tom never had to do business plans for his job, he’s wrapped his brain around this process with a passion I admire more than he’ll ever know. He’s better at certain aspects than I am with date recall, map skills, geography and finances that is astounding. Add my odd jumble of interests and a few skills here and there and we’re a match made in heaven, able to make magic happen once we begin.

So was the case yesterday afternoon. The post was done. it was raining once again. I’d tried sitting outside for 30 minutes of sunshine but had to come back inside after 10 when the sunny sky turned black and the rains came in buckets as has been the case everyday lately. It wasn’t as if we’d planned to spend the day booking future travel.

On the calendar app on my laptop I had marked November 30th to contact the river cruise rep we’d used at Vacations to Go to book the upcoming cruise to Vietnam in July, 2016. With the cruise booked and paid, we needed to know which hotel Viking Cruise Line had booked for the on-land portion of the cruise. We planned to arrive a few days earlier than the cruise booking and didn’t want to have to change hotels.

When we originally booked the cruise, the location of the hotel portion wasn’t “cast in concrete.” Thus, we decided to wait until November 30th, the date they’d have it confirmed. First order of business, book that hotel!

Typically, roads in this area aren’t paved other than in the village and are narrow requiring a passing car to move to the shoulder.



Sofitel Legend Metropole” in Hanoi is the cruise line’s choice for its passengers.  See information below:

“HOTEL METROPOLE HANOI LEGEND

The Hotel Metropole Hanoi is an award-winning French colonial-style hotel lying in the heart of Hanoi, near Hoan Kiem Lake and the magnificent Opera House. Boasting a classical white façade, green shutters, original wrought iron detail, wood paneling and a lush courtyard lawn, the hotel is one of the region’s few remaining hotels of its era.

Built in 1901 by two private French investors, the hotel quickly became the rendez-vous point for colonial society in the first half of the century. Following Vietnamese independence in the 1950s, the new national government opted to maintain it as the official hotel for visiting VIP’s. During and after the war years, it became a base for press and diplomats.

Ninety years after it had risen so gloriously from the swamps of ancient Hanoi, the Thong Nhat Hotel was closed for the face-lift of the century. Under the first phase, the existing hotel was refurbished over an eighteen-month period and reopened in March 1992, again called Hotel Metropole. The second phase started in 1994 when work commenced on the 135-room Opera Wing, and the four-storey Metropole Center office tower above it, both of which opened in late 1996. After the reconstruction of the new Club Rooms, replaced Metropole offices, the third phase will be fully finished end 2008. The Club Metropole Lounge and Imperial Suite, opened in May 2008, introduce an impressive new oasis of charm and luxury at Metropole Hanoi.

The hotel guest list over the past years has included the Presidents of USA, of France, of Switzerland, the Prince of Monaco, of Denmark, of Sweden, the King of Malaysia, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, the Prime Ministers from Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France, Canada, Nigeria, Norway and Vietnam, and important business delegations such as the World Presidents Organization, the Asia Leaders Forum, the 5th Asia-Europe Meeting, the APEC 2006 Leaders Week, as well as famous people like Catherine Deneuve, Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Stephen Hawking, Oliver Stone, Mick Jagger, Sir Roger Moore amongst others. It also includes a host of corporate heavyweights and to this day the hotel’s bars remain a haunt for international and local journalists wanting to pick up the latest business news.”

Many river cruises include a number of nights in hotels in order to allow the passengers time to tour the cities. This particular cruise will include only 7 nights out of 14 actually staying on the ship, the Viking Mekong, with only a total of only 60 passengers. This will be our first cruise on such a small ship and we look forward to the experience. 

Over the Thanksgiving (USA) holiday weekend, we received several email messages from the link on our site, Hotels.com which we always use when booking various hotel stays.  The email messages offered a number of special Cyber sales offered over the holiday weekend.


Many of these rocky sites are ideal for snorkeling.

As planned, we contacted the rep at Vacations to Go explaining we needed an answer back right away in order to take advantage of the pricing. She confirmed the Sofitel Legend Metropole as the cruise line’s selection.  

After each of us checking available rooms, pricing and dates, we were able to book the three additional nights (two night through the cruise) we’d be on our own at a reasonable USD $180, FJD $385 per night as opposed to the lowest prices we otherwise found at USD $207, FJD $443. 

Although the savings wasn’t huge, it will pay for one or two meals during our own three night stay at the hotel while the remaining meals over the two nights paid for by the cruise line are included in the cruise fare.

Another aspect that greatly influences our booking at Hotels.com on our site is the “buy 10 nights, get one free.” Over these past three plus years we accumulated and used 3 free nights in hotels as a result of this rewards program. After we complete a few upcoming hotel bookings, we’ll have a few more free nights accumulated. 

With this task handled, we continued on for the next few hours, as we booked another exciting location in Asia, one that had never really been on our radar. Big cities, here we come!  One can’t travel the world and avoid them.  Check back tomorrow for Part 2 with more new bookings.

Four days and counting.                                                 
                       _______________________________________

Photo from one year ago today, December 2, 2014:

We took this last photo of the beach outside our condo in Maui the morning we flew to the Big Island.  It was on this day’s post, that we included the total expenses for the six weeks we spent on that island.  Please click here for the totals.